To prep for seeing Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, I finally checked out the original Wall Street (1987) that earned Michael Douglas an Oscar for playing slithery, dynamic, greedy Wall Street money-maker Gordon Gekko. Some of the film is dated, but it is still surprisingly relevant, and is very watchable. I can see Oliver Stone’s interest in crafting a sequel, especially after the stock market boom, then catastrophic crash at the end of the 2000s. What DID happen to Gordon Gekko?
Well, apparently he went to prison, like unfortunately so few corrupt Wall Street types actually do. After serving an 8-year sentence, he is released back onto the world in a greatly changed post 9/11 America, circa late 2001. He is handed his fancy watch, wallet, and a HUGE brick-sized cellphone. Things have changed. Or have they, really?
Cut forward a few years to 2007. Gekko has written a bestseller book about, of course greed (he gets laughs on the lecture circuit with the zinger, “Someone reminded me I once said ‘Greed is good.’ Now it seems it’s legal.”). One young Wall Street type who is enamored with Gekko’s charisma is Jake Moore (Shia LaBeouf). He really wants to meet the man. But he is also enamored with a young woman named Winnie (Carey Mulligan), whom he wants to marry. Winnie happens to be Gekko’s very estranged daughter. Ahhhh… yes, things may get complicated.
Meanwhile, there’s all sorts of corporate financial shenanigans going on. Jake’s boss and beloved mentor (Frank Langella) is seemingly one of the first victims of the financial crisis. He takes the blame for his Wall Street company’s collapse and jumps in front of a train out of guilt. Jake is distraught, then sets his eyes on scheming Wall Street bigwig Bretton James (Josh Brolin), whom Jake blames for his boss’ death. Bretton sees the kid as having great potential to be a wheeler and dealer on Wall Street, and Jake sees it as an opportunity to make it big on investments, but also to try to take down Bretton playing his own game.
Or something like that.
The Film That Never Sleeps is crammed with the subplot of the financial collapse of the stock market and banking industry. Stone methodically portrays this practically month-by-month to coincide with the more human plot – there are charts, graphics, and lots of arrows and numbers flashing across the screen. OK, we get it. In the meantime, good ol’ Gordon Gekko is almost a side-player to the new greed, represented by Bretton James (and to a lesser part young Jake). Girlfriend Winnie gets to play the equivalent of the crying Indian in those 1970s Keep America Beautiful TV commercials. A liberal blogger and environmentalist, Winnie (poor Carey Mulligan) basically weeps through the whole film.
I somehow expected more… I don’t know… oooomph from the Wall Street sequel. There has been so much going on in the last few years that made me so furious, that I was a little disappointed to find that Gordon Gekko was too washed up to get really riled up about (though is still a weasel), and Josh Brolin’s Bretton James is just a limp copycat of Douglas’ iconic character. With Stone’s obsessive attention to real-life financial detail, the story drags along, making it seem longer than its already too long 130+ minutes. I think I’ll just pick up one of the many excellent documentaries of the past decade, like Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, to get my rage against financial greed fired up again to its proper level.